by June 18, 2001 0 comments

I have been a long-time Asimov fan, and have read most of his works. Recently, I was going through a compilation of editorials he wrote and one of them struck a familiar chord. This one is about plagiarism–the art of taking someone else’s written work and passing it off as one’s own. Asimov was talking about the plagiarism of ideas–taking someone’s ideas and creating one’s own work around it. An even worse form of plagiarism is taking someone else’s work and passing it off as one’s own. This vile pastime, it seems, is on the increase in this country, thanks to the Internet.

On an average day, we get at least one article from someone we’ve never known. Some of these articles are of such high quality that the writers have become regular contributors to PCQuest, and personal friends of many of us here. But, unfortunately, many of these are nothing but exact copies of existing Web pages, with only the names of the authors changed!

Who indulges in such practices? We have got such material from students, and we have got it from faculty. We have had faculty certifying to the originality of the work of their students, and of their own involvement in it, when entire sections have been lifted off Web pages. We even got a piece, with the name of the original author changed, from a well-known IT company.

It is not difficult to catch these. Any decent search engine will immediately throw up the original piece. What adds insult to injury is the response of the so-called writers when we point out the fact that the piece already exists under someone else’s name. One threatened to expose us in major newspapers till we provided him with the link to the original. We have not heard from him since. Another asked for payment immediately on submitting his article (not a word of which had been changed from the original, including references to ‘our project’, etc), and even after we gave him the link to the original, insisted that the piece was originally by him, and acted hurt that we did not believe him.

By no means am I sure that we have eliminated all attempts. Some may have slipped through in spite of our vigil. We give strict instructions to our team of writers to ensure that this does not happen. Their pieces are also routinely checked. And the deterrent–that they will not see the inside of a PCQuest office again–is, I believe, strong enough. External
contributors are permanently blacklisted if they attempt to plagiarize. 

What is true of writing is equally true of other things as well–ideas, advertisements, music, and code. And there is evidence of an increasing number of people passing off someone else’s work as their own.

And that is a terrible shame.

Krishna Kumar

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